- RFUtv previews England vs Italy at Twickenham Stadium
- Lancaster, Robshaw, T. Youngs, Cole, Care and Flood on Azzurri clash
Stuart Lancaster has been in charge for 15 Tests and in not many of those matches have England approached the game as favourites. With the exception of Fiji last autumn and this season’s RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland – which both resulted in four-try victories – England have been able to target the opposition and therein have the psychological edge of aiming to shoot down illustrious challengers.
In contrast Italy have been vanquished in all of the 18 matches between the two nations, with England running in an average of six tries in six matches at Twickenham. Getting the mentality right when you are the team and individuals carrying the reputations is crucial, a challenge for England’s players this week.
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But for recalled Tom Youngs however, it has been easy. The barrel-shaped hooker says that despite England’s record of three wins from three in the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, there are areas of their game they need to improve after the patchy 23-13 win over France last time out.
“We’ve still got a lot to improve on so that’s how we’re preparing,” said the 26-year-old former England Under 20 and Premiership centre. “We look at our little bits of detail and get them right for the weekend. Italy are very good upfront, they love a scrum, they love a maul – they’re a very physical side.”
The scrum defines the physical aspect of rugby and England were not at their imperious best against France, losing two of six scrums on their own ball and the penalty count two to one in that area. The Azzurri eight are operating at 91 per cent success rate on their own ball so far in the Championship and tighthead Dan Cole knows what awaits them.
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Cole, the only player to start all of Lancaster’s games at the helm, said: “The Italians pride themselves on the set-piece and they’ve been that way for a long time. We expect what we always expect from Italy and us lads in the pack will have to lift our game.”
Lancaster has made five changes to his starting line-up, a reflection of the intense competition for places in his side and the desire to invigorate the team with players eager to prove a point. Bulldozing prop Mako Vunipola earns a first start after seven appearances of the bench, while Danny Care is rewarded for “the form of his life” with a chance in place of Ben Youngs.
Care made 28 passes in 21 minutes off the bench against France and said: “It shows that what we’ve been doing off the bench has been working and everyone is pushing each other for places. Five people are all looking to stamp their name on the shirt. We’re treating this as another massive game, it’s another step towards bigger things.”
Italy captain and talisman Sergio Parisse starts the game at Twickenham after having his ban for abusing a match official reduced to 20 days. As well as being a world class No.8, the Stade Francais man fires his side with emotionally charged leadership and Head Coach Lancaster is aware of the psychological fillip the opposition camp will have received by his availability.
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Parisse was outstanding in Italy’s opening round victory over France and Lancaster said: “They’ll be unbelievably motivated by his return, it will give them a huge boost to have a player of that quality come back in, their captain. It makes them all the more dangerous come Sunday.”
Captain Chris Robshaw, who leads England for the 14th time, holds Parisse in the highest regard, not only for his rugby talent but the manner in which he leads his team.
Robshaw added: “He’s one of the best players around worldwide in the back row, he’s a massively important player and we must get on top of him. You look up to players like that and especially how he can galvanise his team around him and get them going.”
Focus on the detail in their own game, especially at the set piece, and counter a passionate, Parisse-inspired Italy and then, only then, can England start to think of a shot at a first Grand Slam since 2003.